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I. The end which we ought to aim at
That, for which the use of the fringe was appointed to the Jews, is equally necessary for us; namely, to preserve continually upon our minds a sense of,
1. Our duty to God
[We are told to "walk in the fear of the Lord all the day long." For this purpose we should have the commandments of God ever, as it were, before our eyes. It is not unuseful to have habitually some short portion of the word of God, some one precept or promise, for our meditation through the day, especially at those intervals when the mind has nothing particular to engage its attention. The expediency of such an habit appears from the text itself: for, if we have nothing good at hand for our meditations, "the eye and the heart" will furnish evil enough. In our unconverted state we uniformly, as God himself expresses it, "go a whoring after these:" our affections are estranged from God, and our thoughts from time to time fix on some vanity which our eyes have seen, or on some evil which our own wicked heart has suggested. How desirable were it, instead of having our minds thus occupied, to have them filled with heavenly contemplations; to be searching out our duty; to be examining our own hearts in relation to it; and to be inquiring continually wherein we can make our profiting to appear!]
2. Our obligations to him-
[How strong and energetic are the expressions in our text respecting this! "I am your God: I have redeemed you in order that I might be so to the utmost possible extent: and I consider all that I am, and all that I have, as yours." If these mercies, as far as they were vouchsafed to the Jews, deserved to be had in continual remembrance, how much greater cause have we to remember them; we, who have been redeemed, not from Egypt, but from hell itself; and not by power only, but by price, even by the precious blood of God's only-begotten Son; and who have such an interest in God, that he not merely dwells amongst us, but in us, being one with us, as he is one with Christ himself a! Methinks, instead of finding it difficult to turn our minds to this subject, it may well appear strange that we can for a moment fix them upon any thing else. Were we day and night to "meditate on the loving-kindness of our God, our souls would be filled as with marrow and fatness, and our mouth would praise him with joyful lips b."]
a John xv. 5. and xvii. 21-23. and 1 Cor. vi. 17.
The ordinance before us goes further still, and prescribes,
II. The means by which we are to obtain it
True it is that no distinctions in dress are prescribed to us: the ordinance in this respect is annulled. But, as a means to an end, the appointment of the fringe may teach us,
1. To make a spiritual improvement of sensible objects
[This was the direct intent of the fringes on their garments: they were as monitors, to remind the people of their duty and obligations. And why may not we receive similar admonitions from every thing around us? Has not our blessed Lord set us the example? For instance, What part of husbandry is there which he has not made a source of spiritual instruction? the ploughing, the sowing, the weeding, the growth, the reaping, the carrying, the winnowing, the destruction of the chaff, and the treasuring up of the wheat, are all improved by him in this view. There are some things also which he has expressly ordained to be used for this end. What is the water in baptism, but to remind us of "the answer of a good conscience towards God?" What are the bread and wine in the Lord's supper, but to be signs to us of his body broken, and his blood shed, for the sins of the whole world? We acknowledge that those things only which he has appointed to be signs, are of necessity to be used as such; but we are at liberty to use every thing in that view; and so far from its being superstitious to do so, it is highly reasonable and proper to do it: it then only becomes superstitious, when it is rested in as an end, or used as a mean for an end which it has no proper tendency to effect. Some have been offended with the use of the cross in baptism and if it were intended as any kind of charm, they might well be offended with it: but it is, as the Liturgy expresses it, "a token that hereafter the child shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified:" and, if it serve to impress the minds of the sponsors in that light, it is well if it do not, the fault is not in it, but in them. The same may we say in reference to the names, the titles, and the habits that are in use amongst us. Our Christian name, as it is called, should never be mentioned without bringing to our remembrance HIM, "whose we are, and whom we are bound to serve." The titles which are given to men, either on account of their rank in society, or of their consecration to the sacred office of the ministry, may well be improved for that end for
c 1 Pet. iii. 21.
which they were originally given; not merely to shew to others what respect was due to the individuals, but to shew to the individuals themselves what might justly be expected of them, and what their rank and office required: the one should maintain his honour unsullied; the other should be so heavenly in his deportment as to constrain all to revere him. In this view, the use of the surplice was doubtless well intended; and happy would it be if all who wear it were reminded, as often as they put it on, how pure and spotless they ought to be, both in their hearts and lives. The very sight of a lofty church should remind us, that we are temples of the living God; whilst the spire pointing upwards, may well direct us to lift up our hearts to God.
Let us not be misunderstood. We contend not for any of these things as necessary; but we learn from our text that they may be rendered subservient to a blessed end, and that it is our privilege to make every thing around us a step towards heaven.]
2. To get the law itself written in our hearts—
[Whilst the fringes had in themselves a practical use, they were also emblematical of benefits which were to be more fully bestowed under the Christian dispensation. As a sign they are abolished: but the thing signified remains in undiminished force. What the thing signified was, we are at no loss to determine it was, that the law, of which a visible memorial was to be worn by the Jews, was to be inscribed in lively characters on our hearts. To this effect Moses speaks repeatedly, when giving directions respecting those other memorials of the law, which were to be worn on the forehead, and on the neck, and arms: "These words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes "." And again, "Ye shall lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul." Hence the real design of God even as it respected them, and much more as it respects us, is evident. Moreover, God has promised this very thing to us, as the distinguishing blessing of the new covenant: "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it on their hearts f."
Now this is the true way to attain that constant sense of our duty and obligations to God, which have been before mentioned. For, if his law be written on our hearts, we shall find the same disposition to meditate upon it, as a covetous man does to meditate upon his gains, and an ambitious man on his distinctions. It is true, the heart has more to struggle with in the one case than the other; but, in proportion as divine grace prevails, holy exercises will be easy and delightful.]
d Deut. vi. 6-9. e Deut. xi. 18-20. See also Prov. iii. 3. f Jer. xxxi. 33. with Heb. viii. 10.
3. To exhibit that law in our lives
[The fringe was a distinction which shewed to every one of what religion they were. Thus there is a singularity which we also are to maintain: we are to be "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." If others will not walk with us in the narrow path of holiness, it is not our fault that we are singular, but theirs: we are no more blameable for differing from them, than Noah, Lot, Daniel, or Elijah, were for differing from the people amongst whom they lived. As to singularity in dress, it is rather to be avoided than desired. Our distinctions must be found only in the conformity of our lives to the word of God. Whilst the world are clad in gay attire, let us "put on the Lord Jesus Christ," and be "clothed with humility:" yea, let us "put off the old man which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and put on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness." This is the way to honour God; and the more we strive to adorn our holy profession, the more peace and happiness we shall enjoy in it. In a word, holiness is our fringe: let us wear it: let us not be ashamed of it, but rather endeavour to "make our light to shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven." Of course, I must not be understood to recommend any thing like ostentation: that is hateful both to God and man: but a bold, open, manly confession of Christ crucified is the indispensable duty of all who are called by his name: and "if we deny him, he will assuredly deny us." I say then again, let us wear the fringe, and not indulge a wish to hide it. But let us be careful that "the ribband be of blue:" it must not be of any fading colour: our piety must be uniform in all places, and unchanging under all circumstances. We must be the same in the world as in the house of God. We must be "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord;" and then we are assured, that "our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord."]
Numb. xvi. 38. The censers of these sinners against their own souls, let them make them broad plates for a covering of the altar; for they offered them before the Lord; therefore they are hallowed: and they shall be a sign unto the children of Israel.
IT is painful, in perusing the history of the Israelites, to see how constantly they were murmuring and rebelling against God. Persons who are ignorant of
their own hearts are ready to conceive of them as more perverse and obstinate than the rest of mankind: but they who know what human nature is, behold in their rebellions a true picture of mankind at large. In the chapter before us we have an exact representation of a popular tumult: we see the motives. and principles by which factious demagogues are actuated, and the lamentable evils which they produce. The censers of which our text speaks were formed into plates for a covering of the altar, that they might be a sign to all future generations: and, though we have not now the altar before us, they are no less a sign to us, than they were to the Israelites of old. Let us consider,
I. The history before us
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, raised a rebellion against Moses and Aaron
[Let us mark how they proceeded. They complained that Moses and Aaron had usurped an undue authority over them and that Moses in particular had ensnared them, and brought them into the wilderness for that very purpose. For the purpose of making an invidious comparison between their former situation in Egypt and their present state, they represented Egypt as "a land flowing with milk and honey." As to any personal interest, they disclaimed any regard to that; and professed to be actuated by a generous concern for the public welfare. In a word, they were true patriots: they were enemies to usurpation and tyranny, and friends to the liberties of the people. Liberty and equality was their motto.
Such were their professions: and by these they imposed upon the people, and rendered them dissatisfied with the government both in church and state.
But what were their real principles? They envied the power and dignity with which their governors were invested, and were ambitious to obtain a like pre-eminence for themselves. As for any desire to ameliorate the state of the people at large, they had it not: a patriotic concern for others was a mere pretext, a popular cry raised for the purpose of gaining partisans. Korah was at the head of the Levites, and Dathan and Abiram were men of renown among the princes of the congregation:" but they were not satisfied: they could endure no dignity superior to their own; and this was the true cause of all their c ver. 3. d ver. 3.
a ver. 13, 14.
ver. 13, 14.